On September 22 the Prosecutor General’s Office of Tajikistan launched a criminal case at the request of the Ministry of Internal Affairs against Dodojon Atovulloev, the founder of the newspaper Charogi Ruz and leader of the popular movement Vatandor (Patriot).
“The criminal case has been launched in accordance with several articles of the Criminal Code, including Article 307 (public appeals for a violent change of the constitutional order of the Republic of Tajikistan) and Article 137 (public insult of the President of Republic of Tajikistan and slander against him),” according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
According to an unnamed source, the law enforcement authorities began a search for Atovulloev, and measures are being taken at present to detain him (www.fergana.ru, September 23).
Dodojon Atovulloev is perhaps the single most famous opposition journalist in Tajikistan. The newspaper Charogi Ruz, which he founded at the dawn of perestroika, was the first news publication independent from authorities in Tajikistan. In 1991 during the standoff between the Tajik opposition and the authorities, who were mainly represented by the former Communist nomenklatura apparatchiks, Charogi Ruz openly supported the opposition. In May 1992 the opposition attempted to oust the authorities by force, resulting in the long and bloody Tajik Civil War, which ended only in 1997. During the civil war Atovulloev continued to support the Tajik opposition, while his newspaper was published in Moscow. According to a Jamestown correspondent who knew him personally, Atovulloev participated in the inter-Tajik negotiations on the side of the opposition.
It should be noted that after late 1992 the Tajik opposition began referring to itself as the Movement of Islamic Renaissance of Tajikistan and practically all leading positions in it have been occupied by religious figures. Although the Tajik opposition formally has denied that it wanted to build an Islamic state, one can conjecture that in practice many of its leaders have been sympathetic to that political system. In 1996, when the Tajik opposition forces managed to gain control over the Karategin Valley, which consists of the mountainous regions to the east of Dushanbe, they established a regime that was based on the Shari’a law.
Because the opposition mainly consisted of Islamists, such people as Dodojon Atovulloev were extremely important. Outwardly completely secular and with European manners, Atovulloev was engaged in the public relations campaign on behalf of the Tajik opposition in the Russian and Western press.
However, after the agreement was signed by the opposition and government about the establishment of the coalition government in 1997, Dodojon Atovulloev continued to remain an irreconcilable oppositionist. In 1998 Atovulloev supported the incursion from Uzbekistan into northern Tajikistan by the rebel Tajik colonel Mahmud Khudoiberdiev. It should be noted that Khudoiberdiev’s rebellion was condemned by the Tajik opposition leaders and that the detachments of opposition militants, which were integrated into government forces, participated in suppressing the revolt.
Taking into account Atovulloev’s contradictory positions, it is still important to note that at present he is the only prominent individual who opposes the policies of the Tajik authorities. After returning to the motherland, the Tajik opposition gradually expired as a political force. The president of Tajikistan, Emomali Rakhmon, managed to co-opt some of opposition leaders and to eliminate the others from the political arena. One of the most influential leaders, Akbar Turadjonzoda, left the opposition. After the illness and death of the leader of the Party of Islamic Renaissance of Tajikistan, Abdullohi Nuri, the party ceased to be an opposition party. In essence, there are no legally functioning opposition parties in Tajikistan today. Although Atovulloev’s popular Vatandor movement is more of a phantom, according to Jamestown’s information, Dodojon maintains close ties with all clandestine opponents of the Tajik authorities and therefore represents a real danger to the government.
The Tajik authorities have launched criminal cases against Atovulloev on a number of occasions since 1992. In 2001 he was detained by police officers at Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow. His imminent extradition to Tajikistan was prevented only by the interference of Russian journalists and members of the State Duma of the Russian Federation. Nonetheless, he spent eight days in the preliminary detention facility until the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office came to the conclusion that the charges against him were clearly politically motivated (www.fergana.ru, September 24). Although Atovulloev has permanent residency in Germany, most of his time is spent in Moscow, where Charogi Ruz is published. According to Jamestown sources, the Tajik authorities have repeatedly appealed to the Kremlin to extradite Atovulloev, but the Russian authorities have declined their requests because they are unwilling to damage their image in the eyes of the international community. It is possible that after the Russian invasion of Georgia, the Kremlin will be less concerned about its image in the West. There is an extradition agreement between Moscow and Dushanbe regarding citizens who are subjects of criminal investigations. According to information given to Jamestown, the launch of a new criminal case against Atovulloev indicates that this time Moscow agreed to his extradition to Tajikistan.